About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Christian Scientists versus invasive species

This may seem right out of the Onion, but comes instead from a recent issue of The Christian Science Monitor (although there is no byline, so we don't know whether it was supernaturally inspired or written directly by the Almighty himself). I always thought that the term “Christian Science” was an oxymoron, and it's hard to find a better example.

The article deals – so to speak – with the very serious problem of invasive species, those plants or animals that rapidly colonize new habitats after having being introduced into them, sometimes accidentally, other times intentionally, by humans. Invasions devastate the local flora and fauna, and often affect the health of an ecosystem and even of human crops. It's a worldwide problem that is costing billions of dollars, and which real scientists take very seriously.

Enter the anonymous Christian Scientist who wrote the piece. Here is his simple advice: since international, science-based approaches can take years, “prayer is an effort that can be undertaken now.” You see, according to Mary Baker Eddy's (the foundress of Christian Science) “insight” there is only one Mind, that of God. Obviously, “that Mind has an infinite understanding and knowledge of its own creation.” But, wait, if that's obviously the case, why does this Mind need our prayers to tell Him/Her/It that there is something wrong with the earth's ecosystem? Can't the Mind run a level-1 diagnostic on the planet and figure it out for itself?

But never mind minor logical contradictions. The important thing is that prayer “doesn't just stay inside our head,” you see because “the effect of thought goes into the general mental atmosphere.” And what, pray, exactly is a mental atmosphere? Can we breathe it? How do we improve it? Because lately I feel a bit of general mental anoxia, in that department.

These and other “spiritual facts” (another oxymoron) are scattered throughout the Christian Science Monitor's piece, and would be as good as the Onion for a good chuckle if it were not for the possibility that this nonsense, much like many other Christian Science doctrines about the power of prayer and the spirit-over-flesh thing, may actually lead to less evidence-based action. One of the great dangers of the Christian religion is precisely this constant theme that things will get better just because we wish them so, if not now, then in the next life. But we are not going to have a next life, and there isn't going to be another planet earth to inhabit once we've destroyed the one we have. The earth wasn't given to us in stewardship by a mental god (or is that a god gone mental?), we inherited it as the result of a historical fluke, a quirk of the evolutionary process. It won't matter to the rest of the universe – much less to a universal Mind – what we do with it. But it will matter to us greatly.


  1. "One of the great dangers of the Christian religion is precisely this constant theme that things will get better just because we wish them so"

    Actually, this can sometimes work to our advantage. My girlfriend told me about some abortion clinic protesters near her home that were exhorting people to pray that place was shut down. It occurred to me that if we can get these loonies to pray for "family values" issues, mayde it will distract from doing anything productive like electing politicians.

  2. Chris indirectly touches on an issue that I have often thought of.

    The problem is alot of the religious don't really believe that prayer is sufficient and powerful enough. Therefore they take real world actions to actually influence the real world.

    Christian Scientists may be different however in that they will not seek medical treatment, but favor prayer for healing.

    That may be why they are not a growing religion. Other denominations will make noise about the "power of prayer", but won't risk not engaging in real world action. Their faith is weak, which I suppose we ought to give them credit for!

  3. Interestingly enough, M, while you don't seem think it is CS is "science" I don't think it is at all Christian. Possibly, it is neither.

    Basically, and believe it or not, there are only five general types of religions and CS falls into the cats that include universalism and pantheism, I think.
    check em out!

    and ...
    "Instead of arguing that Christianity is not true, the more popular argument today is that Christianity is evil" | Gene Edward Veith
    "... The old argument against Christianity was simply that it is not true. Modern science, evolutionary theory, rational argumentation, and the like were said to disprove the existence of God and the claims of the Bible.

    But this line of attack does not work well anymore. Postmodernists themselves distrust science and rationality, and they consider such hallmarks of the now passé modernism to be so last-century. In fact, now Christians are about the only ones still standing who have a worldview that has a place for reason and the reality of the objective creation." http://www.worldmag.com/articles/12464

  4. "Interestingly enough, M, while you don't seem think it is CS is "science" I don't think it is at all Christian. Possibly, it is neither."

    Ah yes, of course, the not a "true Christian" trick, otherwise known as the "No True Scottsman" fallacy.

  5. ...and otherwise known as the 'no true scientist fallacy'. ;) Yeah, that would have to be the one.

    Obviously since some people can call themselves scientists and they are not, similarly some can call themselves Christian.
    Easy stuff, Sheldon. Generally you are not so black and white or gullible. Why so on this issue?

    The tricky part comes when someone would be so bold as to call themselves TWO THINGS that they are not. Totally tricksters, I'd say. ;)


  6. Cal, real scientists have real degrees from real universities. What do Xians have, other than their professions of faith?
    The difference is that to be a scientist requires a specific qalification, whereas what makes you a Xian is whatever you say it is.

  7. Well I will slightly disagree with Kimpatsu. It is not neccessarily the credentials that makes a scientist, but the application of a method, (observation, hypothesis testing etc.), that makes a scientist.

    What makes a Christian is the accepting of Jesus Christ as saviour for original sin. Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and all kinds of Protestant denominations including Christian Scientists are united by similar doctrine. Yet this does not stop them from denouncing each other as not being true Christians because one sect deviates from the other in some silly detail of theology.

  8. I understand that this is sort of taking off in a different direction, but I don't think that I can concretely prove to you what you seem to be after. In same sense that some great scientists works are often made more notable and significant after their deaths, likely a Christan's authenticity is known of better after their death likewise.

    As a side note, I think that we also totally forget that science and education is not seen and respected identically and equally everywhere you go.

    Todays example in the news:
    I sent an email to my husband this morning about this headline in the JPost. He is in Jerusalem himself at the time. The headline was: "Patient assaults senior doctor; security guards attacked by his brother" http://www.jpost.com/

    Now I may happen to find this both a bit funny and puzzling. After all it's just that men hate going to docs, right? :) But this happens there a lot more than you would imagine.

    So what's the problem? Just no love in socialized medicine? Not much civility in the population? No respect for education and experience generally? Questions like this actually keep me awake at night. :)

    I guess this docs reward really will have to be on "the other side"!



  9. Hey, Cal, Hitler was a true Xian.

  10. We know by history and the way that H died what he was, don't we. The purity of the the "selected races" is obviously a total lie. I am not pro eugenics, but some evolutionists might be. Isn't that right?

    At one time, my biological mother was a very bright and beautiful German woman born unfortunately on Htlr's birthday. My mom's family held out the highest hopes for her as did probably the German community that she grew up in.

    Then the unthinkable happened. It was so bad, that it was advised that I not live with my grandmother because of the way people in the community would look at me. I TRULY wish that I knew why people think and do evil things. But to be absolutely honest, I don't. All I know for certain is that I just won't be one of them.

    What does a Christian really look like, Kimpat? You tell me.


  11. The purity of the the "selected races" is obviously a total lie.

    Certainly, but... Chosen people, anyone?

    I am not pro eugenics, but some evolutionists might be.

    I'm afraid the Bible will disagree with on on this one... But I'm sure the Bible endorses genocide, so maybe that makes up for it.

    And yes, Hitler was a Christian, leaned towards Protestantism (even if raised Catholic) and wanted to create his own version, and was deeply influenced by Martin Luther ("The Jews and their lies", excerpts here, as an example).

    Not that being Christian made him worse (or better) anyway, but there you go...

  12. "The purity of the the "selected races" is obviously a total lie. I am not pro eugenics, but some evolutionists might be. Isn't that right?"

    Within the fields of bio-physical anthropology, the dicipline that most closely studies human evolution, the dominant view has been that the concept of "race" as applied to modern human populations is scientifically worthless. This would seem to be the most logical conclusion of the Human Genome project as well. That is all living human populations are closely related to each other, with significant gene flow between them for the last 100,000+ years.

    One of the great evolutionary scientists of our time, Stephen J. Gould, wrote the book "The Mismeasure of Man" to refute scientific racist ideas.

    Sure, you can find some dissenting evolutionary scientists who think that "race" is a valid concept. Just as you can find Christians who defend racist ideas and concepts.

    There were also prominent anti-evolution Christian promoters of eugenics during the last century as well, as the following article documents:


    "The most notable of these anti-evolution eugenics supporters was probably William J. Tinkle, geneticist and prominent Creationist."

  13. j: Certainly, but... Chosen people, anyone?"

    Come on. Get real. Chosen for what? The life of the Jew has been fraught with hardship and pain with only momentary glimpses of peace and prosperity. Do you honestly wish that you were "chosen" for that, J? Yeah, that's some kind of weirdo racism alright.

    j: "I'm afraid the Bible will disagree with on on this one... But I'm sure the Bible endorses genocide, so maybe that makes up for it."

    Scripture and verse(s)?

    And as I have claimed before, if a people group happened to be singled out for "trouble" with the Lord God there was something that particular race was all about to bring that upon themselves. Is that really anything less than fair?

    In reality, just like those people of old it seems that..

    "Any message that threatens our autonomy is automatically rejected no matter what it is.

    For that very reason, centuries after Jesus, we have become the impoverished inheritors of a culture that understands neither law nor grace, where absolutes are debunked as the gasp of an antiquated thought pattern, and forgiveness is branded a beggar's refuge. It is not at all surprising that in Toynbee's study of history we are the first of 21 civilizations to attempt "civility" without a moral point of reference. To compound this further, we have come to these conclusions through a process that only causes us to sink deeper into the abyss of nihilism, where life has lost all meaning. That process is where we now turn our attention.

    In the biblical narrative, when the tower of Babel was being built, we are told that God sent a confusion of languages to stem the tide toward humanity's self-deification. The implication was that the uniformity of language would inexorably lead to a homogenization of tastes, and a celebration of evil. The human heart, being what it is, moves in a herd instinct, irresistibly drawn to the intrigue and allurements of perversions. The confusion of language was one fence that God put up to limit communication and prevent a moral landslide.

    But that was millennia ago. Now, for the first time the whole world speaks the same language. Yet it is not propositional; rather, it is pictorial, literally focused on "flesh and blood." As a result, the whole process militates against reason because images have become the sum and substance of truth, and the written word is no longer user-friendly. For all practical purposes, truth has been relegated to technology, beauty has been subjugated to the beholder, and goodness is mocked night after night as millions are idiotized before a box. We have been left as expendable entities in a disposable world, and our experiences have become fragmented quantities in a disjointed world. Yet, the fearful symmetry remains, for at such a time as this we are called to proclaim, "It is written. . . ." Is the written Word the best method for an infinite God to have chosen to reveal Himself? Yes! Indeed, an emphatic yes!

    As cultural fads ebb and flow, the inescapable truth emerges that century after century the power of the written Word has surpassed, and will continue to surpass, the exhilarations of momentary experience, which are conceived and die in an instant. We tenderly set a halo on the forehead of feeling or miracle, but in times of greatest loss it is the written Word that carries us through, not feeling.

    The Apostle Peter himself in his epistle reminds us of this very truth. We must remember that this is the same Peter who experienced the ecstasy of the transfiguration — a sight that caused him to plead that he and those with him be permitted to permanently bask in its afterglow. It is Peter who, contrasting the temporariness of that experience with the eternal and unfading brilliance of the Word, says, "We now have the more sure word of prophecy." Inscripturation has a present and eternal point of reference, transcending mere flashes of feeling or of the miraculous.

    The story is told of a young man defending his doctoral dissertation before a panel of academicians. When reprimanded for the number of allusions he had made to hearsay evidence, and challenged on the weakness of such a defense, he facetiously said, "Just because something is written does not make it any more certain, does it?" The chairperson had a brilliant comeback. "All right then, I just want you to know that we will be granting you the degree, but it will not be in writing. You can just take our word for it." The candidate quickly complied with the documentary demand."..
    excerpt from: R.Zacharias Biblical Authority and Cultural Relativism

    obviously and clearly not my writing,

  14. obviously and clearly not my writing

    Clearly not. I usually finish reading what you write. At least you are not soporific.

  15. Not my writing because I had to google the word "soporific".


    I totally admire folks with massive vocabularies, Paul, I just will never be one of them. I guess when you get close to 4-0 your speech/vocab patterns cannot change very much. They just are what they are.

    And do you really think R. Zacharias is boring? I could read volumes of it. I could listen to him endlessly too. He is always super interesting to me.

    Maybe I should focus in on this phrase singulary:

    "Any message that threatens our autonomy is automatically rejected no matter what it is."

    It is just that such a statement cannot stand alone. Not everyone rejects that message. And there is a reason that some certainly do.


  16. Back again to what it means to be "chosen". Maybe one day more of you will understand what it is Israel gives up every time it negotiates with it's neighbors. And right now, it is just being asked to give everything.

    Exactly how far would YOU go and what would you give for "peace"? Note that the PA neg is asking for ALL 12 000 prisoners. I can't believe that Olmert has been whittled away to this.

    Erekat: We won't accept Jewish Israel

    Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday rejected Israel's demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.

    "There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined," Erekat told Radio Palestine.

    Additionally, Erekat said, when agreements are signed, the Palestinians would demand that Israel make a commitment in writing to releasing all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

    A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said in response that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel's Jewish identity, as a condition for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.

    ...The prime minister also said that he planned to release approximately 400 prisoners, out of a total of more than 12,000 held in Israel.

    The additional prisoner release, a gesture of goodwill to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was already discussed several weeks ago, when 120 prisoners were freed.

    Olmert also said Israel would continue to negotiate with Abbas even if terrorists continue to fire rockets at southern Israel from Gaza, committee member and Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said. ..

    " cont at j post.

  17. According to Alfred Lilienthal ("The Zionist Connection"), the term "chosen" applied to the Jews did not originally mean that they had been singled out for preferential treatment. It simply meant that they had been "chosen" to spread the concept of monotheism since proselytising was at one time common in Judaism.

    He did not elaborate as to whether the present usage of "chosen" was by evolving semantics or by design, but this usage does appear to have been favorable for the advancement of Zionism.

    Just Passing Through

  18. Cal,
    You are so rude! Why don't you create your own blog, and cut and paste irrelevant ramblings on it?

    Or you could actually defend your mere assertions with an argument written by yourself.

    I offered a definition of Christianity that included Christian Scientists and just about any other denomination that defines itself as Christian. So tell us specifically why they are not Christian? Or what counts as a "true Christian"?

  19. Come on. Get real. Chosen for what? The life of the Jew has been fraught with hardship and pain with only momentary glimpses of peace and prosperity. Do you honestly wish that you were "chosen" for that, J? Yeah, that's some kind of weirdo racism alright.

    Cal, you would be funny, if you were not a sad thing... Your brain, where did you leave it, long ago? It is OBVIOUS to any intelligent creature that the expression "chosen people" IMPLIES racism. First, you have to have a "people". And then, they will be "chosen", whatever the reason (the stupid things you believe or not).

    Scripture and verse(s)?

    Why? You will just invent some inane interpretation of your own to rationalize whatever you want to believe anyway, as always. Many can play that game in the made up world of religious "studies", mind you. And you already gave your answer in advance, blaming the victims of genocide (well, imaginary victims since the Bible is mostly made up, but the principle is the same). They had it coming, they deserved it, right? So, by that despicable "reasoning", how to guarantee that you beloved "the Jews" weren't just receiving what's "fair" all along?

    You evangelical Christians are just being used, Cal. And you're happily playing along.

    Oh well, since your religion only rejected Martin Luther's views on the matter a bit more than a decade ago, I guess you have exactly zero moral standing here anyway, so why bother?

  20. "They had it coming, they deserved it, right? So, by that despicable "reasoning", how to guarantee that you beloved "the Jews" weren't just receiving what's "fair" all along?"

    You know...everybody "has it coming". Everyone deserves judgment. In essence, no one is literally "more special". But some are chosen for different roles in humanity. This is a rational explanation, btw.

    And if i told you where my husband was Tuesday and what he was doing it would kind of wreck your "we're being used" thingy. But I don't think that would be such a great idea. You'll just have to think what you want to think.


  21. "it would kind of wreck your "we're being used" thingy"

    No, it wouldn't. You have no clue what I'm talking about, obviously.

  22. "Used" for relief to Gaza, J. And the group that went in did experience rocket attacks. Direct hits? Of course, no. Actually the area sustained, I think, three rocket attacks that day. And that was considered a REALLY good day. Usually there are ten-twelve. People seldom think about the fact that the PA sends rockets down on their own people. It is so much different there than you think it is. That little item tho just doesn't make the press for some reason.

    Since the IDF no longer patrols the area, my husband and three other assertive, tougher types of guys were asked to be the security for the day. Now THAT was interesting.

    I have a "real man" for husband, don't I? ;)



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